Absolute Power



  it ended at his knees. After all these years? He swore under his breath at the timing. The fucking timing! But he had made up his mind and nothing could change that decision now. Not even his little girl. Something terribly wrong had to be set right.

  Luther was certain Richmond knew nothing about his correspondence with the Chief of Staff. Her only hope was to quietly buy back what Luther had and then make sure no one ever laid eyes on it again. Buy him off, hoping he’d disappear forever and the world would never know. He had verified that the money had arrived in the designated account. What happened to that money would be their first surprise.

  The second surprise, though, would make them forget all about the first. And the best part was that Richmond would never see it coming. He seriously doubted that the President would actually do any time. But if this didn’t meet the criteria for impeachment he didn’t know what did. This made Watergate look like a third-grade prank. He wondered what impeached ex-Presidents did. Withered in the flames of their own destruction, he hoped.

  Luther pulled the letter out of his pocket. He would arrange for her to receive it right about the time she’d be expecting the last set of instructions. The payoff. She would get her payoff. They all would. It was worth it, letting her squirm like he knew she had all this time.

  No matter how often he tried he couldn’t erase the memory of the woman’s leisurely sexual encounter in the presence of a still warm body, as though the dead woman was a pile of trash, not to be bothered with. And then Richmond. The drunken, slobbering bastard! Again the visions made Luther seethe. He clenched his teeth, then abruptly smiled.

  Whatever deal Jack could cut him he would take. Twenty years, ten years, ten days. He didn’t care anymore. Fuck the President and everybody around him. Fuck the whole town, he was taking them down.

  But first he was going to spend some time with his daughter. After that he really didn’t care anymore.

  As he walked over to the bed, Luther’s body took a jolt. Something else had just occurred to him. Something that hurt, but which he could understand. He sat on the bed and sipped a glass of water. If it were true could he really blame her? And besides, he could just kill two birds with one stone. As he lay back on the bed, it occurred to him that things that looked too good to be true usually were. Did he deserve any better from her? The answer was absolutely clear. He did not.

  * * *

  WHEN THE MONEY TRANSFER HAD REACHED DISTRICT BANK, automatic prewire instructions kicked in and the funds were immediately transferred out of the account to five different area banks, each in the amount of one million dollars. From there the funds followed a circuitous route until the total sum was once again assembled in one place.

  Russell, who had put a tracer on the flow of money from her end, would find out soon enough what had happened. She would not be particularly pleased about it. She would be far less pleased about the next message she received.

  * * *

  THE CAFÉ ALONZO HAD BEEN OPEN ABOUT A YEAR. IT HAD the usual array of outdoor tables with colorful umbrellas in a small space on the sidewalk enclosed by a waist-high black iron railing. The coffee was varied and strong; the on-premises bakery was popular among the morning and lunch crowds. At five minutes to four only one person sat at the outdoor table. In the chilly air the umbrellas were collapsed down resembling a column of giant drinking straws.

  The café was located in the ground floor of a modern office building. Two stories up hung a scaffolding. Three workers were replacing a glass panel that had cracked. The entire facade of the building consisted of mirrored panels that gave a complete image of the area directly opposite it. The panel was heavy and even the burly men struggled with the weight and bulk.

  Kate bundled her coat around her and sipped her coffee. The afternoon sun was warming in spite of the chill, but it was fading rapidly. Long shadows had commenced to creep over the tables. She felt the rawness in her eyes as she squinted at the sun suspended directly over the tops of a number of dilapidated row houses that sat diagonally across the street from the café. They were destined for demolition to make room for the continued renovation of the area. She did not notice that the upper-story window on one of the row houses was now open. The row house next door had two windows smashed out. The front door on another was partially caved in.

  Kate looked at her watch. She had been sitting there for approximately twenty minutes. Used to the frenetic pace of the prosecutor’s office, the day had dragged interminably. She had no doubt there were dozens of police officers in the vicinity waiting to pounce once he walked up to her. Then she thought about it. Would they even have a chance to say anything to each other? What the hell could she say anyway? Hi Dad, you’re busted? She rubbed her raw cheeks and waited. He would be there right at four. And it was too late for her to change any of it. Too damned late for anything. But she was doing the right thing, despite the guilt she was feeling, despite breaking down like that after calling the detective. She angrily squeezed her hands together. She was about to hand her father over to the police, and he deserved it. She was through debating it. She now just wanted it to be over.

  * * *

  MCCARTY DID NOT LIKE IT. NOT AT ALL. HIS USUAL ROUTINE was to follow his target, sometimes for weeks, until the assassin understood the victim’s patterns of behavior better than the victim did. It made the killing so much easier. The additional time also allowed McCarty to plan his escape, to allow for worst-case scenarios. He had none of those luxuries on this job. Sullivan’s message had been terse. The man had already paid him an enormous sum on his per diem, with another two million to follow upon completion. Under any yardstick he had been compensated—now he had to deliver. Except for his first hit many years ago, McCarty could not remember being this nervous. It didn’t help matters that the place was crawling with cops.

  But he kept telling himself things would be okay. In the time he had he had planned well. He had reconnoitered the area right after Sullivan’s phone call. The row house idea had hit him immediately. It was really the only logical place. He had been here since four in the morning. The back door to the house opened into an alleyway. His rental car was parked at the curb. It would take him exactly fifteen seconds from the moment the shot was fired to drop his rifle, make his way down the stairs, out the door and into his car. He would be two miles away before the police even fully understood what had happened. A plane was leaving in forty-five minutes from a private airstrip ten miles north of Washington. Its destination was New York City. It would carry one passenger, and in a little over five hours McCarty would be a pampered passenger on board the Concorde as it descended into London.

  He checked his rifle and scope for the tenth time, automatically flicking away a grain of dust on the barrel. A suppressor would have been nice, but he had yet to find one that worked on a rifle, especially one that was chambered with supersonic ammo as his weapon was. He would count on the confusion to mask the shot and his subsequent departure. He looked across the street and checked his watch. Almost time.

  McCarty, while being a very accomplished killer, could not have possibly known that another rifle would be trained on his target’s head. And behind that rifle would be a pair of eyes as sharp if not sharper than his own.

  * * *

  TIM COLLIN HAD QUALIFIED AS AN EXPERT MARKSMAN IN THE Marine Corps, and his master sergeant had written in his evaluation that he had never seen a better shot. The focus of that accolade was now sighting through his scope; then he relaxed. Collin looked around the confines of the van he was in. Parked down the street on the curb opposite from the café, he had a straight shot to the target. He sighted through his rifle again, Kate Whitney appearing fleetingly in the crosshairs. Collin slid open the side window of the van. He was under shadow of the buildings behind him. No one could notice what he was doing. He also had the added advantage of knowing that Seth Frank and a contingent of county police were stationed to the right of the café while others were in the office building lobby where
the café was located. Unmarked cars were stationed at various locations up and down the street. If Whitney ran he wouldn’t get far. But then Collin knew the man wasn’t going to run anywhere.

  After the shot Collin would quickly disassemble the rifle and secrete it in the van, emerge with his sidearm and badge and join the other authorities in pondering what the hell had happened. No one would think to check a Secret Service van for the firearm or shooter who had just wasted their target.

  Burton’s plan made a lot of sense to the young agent. Collin had nothing against Luther Whitney but there was a lot more at stake than a sixty-six-year-old career criminal’s life. A helluva lot more. Killing the old man was not something Collin was going to enjoy; in fact, he would do his best to forget it once done. But that was life. He was paid to do a job, had in fact sworn to do that job, above all else. Was he breaking the law? Technically he was committing murder. Realistically he was just doing what had to be done. He assumed the President knew about it; Gloria Russell knew about it; and Bill Burton, a man he respected more than anyone else, had instructed him to do it. Collin’s training simply did not permit him to ignore those instructions. Besides, the old guy had broken into the place. He was going to do twenty years. He’d never make twenty years. Who wanted to be in prison at eighty years old? Collin was just saving him a lot of misery. Given those choices, Collin would’ve taken the round too.

  Collin glanced up at the workmen on the scaffolding above the café as they struggled to right the replacement panel. One man grabbed the end of a rope connected to a block and tackle. Slowly the piece began to rise.

  * * *

  KATE LOOKED UP FROM STUDYING HER HANDS AND HER EYES locked on him.

  He moved gracefully along the sidewalk. The fedora and muffler hid most of his features but the walk was unmistakable. Growing up she had always wanted to be able to glide along the ground like her father, so effortlessly, so confidently. She started to rise and thought better of it. Frank had not said at what point he would move in, but Kate didn’t expect him to wait very long.

  Luther stopped in front of the café and looked at her. He had not been this close to his daughter for over a decade, and he was a little unsure how to proceed. She felt his uncertainty and forced a smile to her lips. He immediately went to her table and sat down, his back to the street. Despite the chill he took off his hat and put his sunglasses away in his pocket.

  McCarty sighted through his rifle scope. The iron-gray hair came into focus and his finger flipped off the safety and then floated to the trigger.

  * * *

  BARELY A HUNDRED YARDS AWAY, COLLIN WAS MIRRORING those actions. He was not as hurried as McCarty since he had the advantage of knowing when the police were going to move in.

  * * *

  MCCARTY’S TRIGGER FINGER CROOKED BACK. EARLIER, HE had noticed the workmen on the scaffolding once or twice but then had put them out of his mind. It was only the second mistake he had ever committed in his line of work.

  The mirrored panel suddenly jerked upward as the rope was pulled down and the panel cocked in McCarty’s direction. Catching the falling sun directly on its surface, the panel threw the reflection, red and glimmering, full in McCarty’s eyes. Momentary pain shot through his pupils and his hand jerked involuntarily as the rifle fired. He cursed and flung down the gun. He made it to the back door five seconds ahead of schedule.

  The bullet struck the umbrella pole and severed it before ricocheting off and imbedding into the concrete pavement. Both Kate and Luther went down, father instinctively shielding daughter. A few seconds later Seth Frank and a dozen uniforms, guns drawn, formed a semicircle around the pair, facing out, their eyes scanning every nook and cranny of the street.

  “Shut this whole fucking area down,” Frank screamed to the sergeant, who barked orders into his radio. Uniforms spread out, unmarked cars moved in.

  The workmen stared down at the street, completely oblivious to the unwitting role they had played in the events unfolding below.

  Luther was pulled up and handcuffed and the entire party hustled into the lobby of the office building. An excited Seth Frank stared at the man for one satisfying moment and then read him his rights. Luther looked across at his daughter. Kate at first could not meet his gaze, but then decided he at least deserved that. His words hurt her more than anything she had prepared for.

  “Are you all right, Katie?”

  She nodded and the tears started to pour, and this time, despite squeezing her throat in an iron grip, she could not stop them as she crumpled to the floor.

  Bill Burton stood just inside the lobby doorway. When an astonished Collin came in, Burton’s look threatened to disintegrate the younger man. That is until Collin whispered in his ear.

  To his credit Burton assimilated the information rapidly and hit upon the truth a few seconds later. Sullivan had hired a hit man. The old man had actually done what Burton had intended to falsely set him up for.

  The wily billionaire rose a notch in Burton’s estimation.

  Burton walked over to Frank.

  Frank looked at him. “Any idea what the fuck that was all about?”

  “Maybe,” Burton answered back.

  Burton turned around. For the first time he and Luther Whitney actually looked at each other. For Luther, memories of that night again came hurtling back to him. But he was calm, unruffled.

  Burton had to admire that. But it also was a great source of concern for him. Whitney was obviously not overly distressed at being arrested. His eyes told Burton—a man who had participated in literally thousands of arrests, which normally involved adults blubbering like babies—all he needed to know. The guy was planning to go to the cops all along. For what reason Burton was unsure and he really didn’t care.

  Burton continued to look at Luther while Frank checked in with his men. Then Burton looked over at the huddled mass in the corner. Luther had already struggled with his captors in an attempt to go to her, but they were having no part of it. A policewoman was making awkward efforts to console Kate but with little success. Traces of tears worked their way down the thick wrinkles in the old man’s cheeks as he watched each sob wrack his little girl.

  When he noticed Burton right at his elbow, Luther finally flashed fire at the man until Burton led the old man’s eyes back over to Kate. The men’s eyes locked again. Burton raised his eyebrows a notch and then settled them back down with the finality of a round being fired into Kate’s head. Burton had stared down some of the worst criminals the area had to offer and his features could be menacing, but it was the absolute sincerity in those features that turned hardened men cold. Luther Whitney was no punk, that was easy enough to see. He was not one of the blubberers. But the wall of concrete that made up Luther Whitney’s nerves had already started to crumble. It swiftly finished dissolving and the remnants trickled toward the sobbing woman in the corner.

  Burton turned and walked out the door.

  CHAPTER NINETEEN

  GLORIA RUSSELL SAT IN HER LIVING ROOM AND HELD THE epistle in her quavering hand. She looked at the clock. It had come right on time, via messenger; a turbaned older man in a beat-up Subaru. A Metro Rush Couriers logo on the passenger door. Thank you, ma’am. Say good-bye to your life. She had expected to finally have in her hand the key to wiping away all the nightmares she had suffered. All the risks she had taken.

  The wind was starting to howl in the chimney. A cozy fire burned in the fireplace. The house was scrupulously clean thanks to the efforts of Mary, her part-time maid, who had just left. Russell was expected at Senator Richard Miles’s home for dinner at eight. Miles was very important to her own personal political aspirations and he had started making all the right noises. Things had finally started to go right again. The momentum had shifted back to her. After all those torturous, humiliating moments. But now? But now?

  She looked at the message again. The disbelief continued to sweep over her like an enormous fishing net, dragging her to the bottom, where she would
remain.

  Thanks for the charitable contribution. It will be greatly appreciated. Also appreciate the extra rope you just gave me to hang you. About that item we had discussed, it’s no longer for sale. Now that I think about it, the cops will probably need it for the trial. Oh, by the way, FUCK YOU!

  It was all she could do to stagger up. Extra rope? She couldn’t think, she couldn’t function. She first thought to call Burton, but then realized he would not be at the White House. Then it hit her. She raced to the TV. The six o’clock news was just recounting a late-breaking story. A daring police operation conducted jointly by the Middleton County Police Department and Alexandria City Police had netted a suspect in the Christine Sullivan murder case. A shot had been fired by an unknown gunman. The target was assumed to be the suspect.

  Russell watched as footage from the Middleton police station was run. She saw Luther Whitney, staring straight ahead, not in any way attempting to hide his face, walk up the steps. He was far older than she had imagined he would be. He looked like a school principal. That was the man who had watched her . . . It never even occurred to her that Luther had been arrested for a crime she knew he had not committed. Not that that revelation would have prompted her to do anything. As the cameraman swung around, she glimpsed Bill Burton with Collin behind him as they stood listening to Detective Seth Frank make a statement to the press.

  The goddamn incompetent bastards! He was in custody. He was in fucking custody and she had a message right there in her hand that guaranteed the guy was going to make sure they were all brought down. She had trusted Burton and Collin, the President had trusted them, and they had failed, failed miserably. She could hardly believe how Burton could be standing there so calmly while their entire world was about to flame out, like a suddenly used-up star.

  Her next thought surprised even her. She raced to the bathroom, tore open the medicine cabinet and grabbed the first bottle she saw. How many pills would be enough? Ten? A hundred?

  She twisted at the cap but her shaking hands couldn’t get it off. She continued to struggle; finally the pills spilled into the